Tag Archives: moldings

Finishing Carpentry, the Final Touches

Finishing carpentry adds the final trim to your homes interior. It includes installing the interior doors, applying door and window casings, and installing baseboard. It can be simple or elaborate, depending on your taste and your skill level. Finishes can be paint or wood grain and material used can vary considerably.


Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning. Beautiful, but the storm is on it’s way today.

Over the years, I have seen metal jambs and casings on doors, plastic casings, rubber like cove bases, extruded foam  crown moldings, and the wood or MDF trim common today. Wood grain trim is elegant and beautiful but takes the most skill and care to apply and finish. It is also the most costly. It is commonly available in oak with multiple configurations. It is possible to make your own or have custom moldings made from any type of wood available.

For ease of application and low-cost, my own preference is MDF (medium density fibreboard.) It is very consistent, cuts and molds easily, and takes a paint finish very nicely. It does have disadvantages and many cabinet makers and carpenters detest it. It is very dusty to work or sand,and is very heavy. It may contain formaldehyde in the glue that binds it, but I do not see that a significant amount could off gas especially once it is primed and painted. It does not hold fine thread screws well, especially in the edges, but it glues up very nicely. I prefer to do cutting and sanding out-of-doors. It is important to wear a dust mask. It is manufactured from wood residuals which makes it easier on our forests.

You can, of course, hire professionals to do your finishing carpentry. It is, however, not that difficult to do yourself. It does require a lot of care and a few rather inexpensive tools. Power tools are big help. Mitre boxes with a backsaw are fine but a powered mitre saw will save a lot of time and likely improve your accuracy. A good blade is essential. A table saw can be handy but a circular saw with a guide will work for the few rip cuts you may have to make. Finishing nails can be used for fastening but a brad nailer works faster and no setting is required. You will need a sanding block and some sponge sanders, An electric orbital sander can save time in some cases. If using nails on wood, you may have to pre-drill to avoid splitting, and to improve accuracy. Always a good practice when finishing with nails. A stand for your mitre saw, with extensions, is a great help. You may need a coping saw. You will need a 4 or 6 ft. level or a shorter one combined with a straight edge.

On a new house, the finishing carpentry starts when the walls have been painted, and the floor coverings are installed.

Sometimes, carpets are not installed until the finishing carpentry is done. In this case space should be allowed under bases and casing.

A bi-fold and a swinging door.

Bi-fold door and an uncased swinging door

The first step is to hang the interior doors. You can buy pre-hung doors, easy fit doors or make your own jambs, and purchase door slabs. For speed and ease I prefer pre-hung doors. In this case you must specify left or right hand swing when purchasing. You will need to assemble jambs for the openings of bi-fold doors. Make the jambs with 3/4 inch material cut in 4.5 inch strips. Assemble  the jambs before installing in the rough opening. Swinging doors should be fully assembled in their jambs before installing. Bi-folds require an exact width and a height within about 1/2 inch. Make sure swinging doors have some clearance, about 1/8 to 3/16 inch top and sides. Make certain the jamb is square and plumb in the opening and shim if needed. Do not be too concerned if the face is not exactly plumb unless the two sides of the door are much different.

The common practice is to use cedar wedges for shims. Overlap them from both sides for an exact fit. For myself I save scraps of material of various thicknesses, including plywood, veneers, flooring or anything else that is at hand. The important part is to be able to build thicknesses to within 1/16 inch or less. Fasten by pre-drilling through the shims. Use screws or 2 inch finishing nails. 

The following is for installing swinging doors. Use the longest level you have (6 ft. is nice), and check the hinge side for plumb. Tack in shims if needed, preferably behind the hinges. Place the jamb and door in the rough opening. With the jamb firm against the opening on the hinge side. check the clearance between the top of the door and its jamb to see if the hinge side will need to be raised to allow for squaring the door. If needed place a temporary shim under the jamb on the hinge side. Make certain the jamb is flush with the drywall and fasten the hinge side. I prefer to remove one screw from each hinge and replace with a longer one. Raise the jamb on the latch side to square if needed, Use the door itself as your square by checking for an even clearance at each top corner. Shim and fasten the latch side of the jamb in at least three places, one of which should be just above, or below, the latch.

Place your fasteners as unobtrusively as possible. With an easy fit door you can put on the door stops after the door is in.  Fasteners can then be placed under them and be perfectly hidden. You do not need many fasteners in the frame as it will be held securely when it is cased.

Lever latch set

Lever latch set


You can now install the latch set. Choose whether you need a passage set, privacy set or a lock set. Adjust the striker plate or door stops for a close fit, not tight. If seniors or small children are using the doors, it might be wise to use lever sets. They do not need as much strength to operate, and are less painful for arthritic hands.

There are other types of doors, such as pocket doors or saloon doors but I have not installed enough of them to feel qualified on the subject. Specific instructions should be available from the manufacturer or the internet in this case.

Installing a pocket door.

Install a saloon door.

With a little care you will get a perfectly fitting door. It may not last. Houses often settle or shift slightly, especially in the first couple of years. You may have to plane an odd door to keep it working smoothly.

Well that’s enough for one session. I will continue with finishing carpentry in my next post

Gage the super

Tired, after a day of supervising, Gage is taking advantage of someone’s carelessly dicarded coat to park his butt.

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